Medical intervention saved Leah Rumack from a near-fatal infection, but dealing with the aftermath takes her to the desert.
After injuries sideline two writers, one finds recovery in a desert oasis, the other in the snowy mountains of Quebec.
I’M ON A PLANE. IT’S A YEAR TO THE DAY SINCE I WAS LYING IN A GRIMY hospital, having morphine-induced hallucinations of a magical door leading to a cruise ship down the hall if only I could stand long enough to get there. I’d ended up in the ICU because I was so run down, I let a scrape get so infected that I nearly had to have my arm amputated to keep me from dying. »
I start seeing weird flashes of colour and feel nauseous. Then I get up and vomit all over her tiny, pretty treatment-room sink.
Yes, a scrape. Yes, I still have my arm. No, I didn’t die. But that rebellion of my immune system, already depleted from ongoing issues with insomnia, stress and chronic pain, left me in a lasting weakened state and ignited an existential crisis with a soupçon of PTSD on the side. Since then, I’ve tried acupuncture, massage, osteopathy, physiotherapy, meditation and cognitive behavioural therapy. I pop painkillers and sleeping pills like they’re gummies. Whatever I try, and whatever I’m told, I’m still definitively Not Well. “What do I need? A frickin’ shaman?” I say to my husband.
Well, maybe I do. I’m a cynic—but a desperate one. So when I’m invited on a whistle-stop tour of off-the-beaten-path treatments at luxury spas in Scottsdale, Ariz., I figure there couldn’t be a better way to commemorate my “armversary.” Besides, Scottsdale is in the magical desert, which has worked for mystics of every stripe for thousands of years. If the treatment sounds weird, I sign up for it. My menu includes cranial sacral therapy, hypnotherapy, singing bowl therapy and a tarot card reading.
My first stop is Joya Spa at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia. I’m here for the cranial sacral therapy, which the website describes as a “holistic practice using very light, intuitive pressure to gently release restrictions influencing the central nervous system.” My therapist tells me that the light touch affects the pressure and circulation of the fluid around the brain and spinal cord, helping relieve pain and dysfunction while kick-starting the body’s own healing. “Vibrational therapy is the biggest thing now,” she tells me. “When the cells heal, it benefits the overall body.” I lie down on the massage table. She holds my head for about 50 minutes, and I spend about half that time wishing I’d gotten a massage instead. I start seeing weird flashes of colour and feel nauseous. Then I get up and vomit all over her tiny, pretty treatment-room sink.
“That’s good!” says my thrilled therapist, clapping her hands. She explains that throwing up is a sign that the body is working through its ailments. She also tells me that I may feel off or emotional for the next day or so. I’m happy to
report that I find myself randomly weeping copiously that night in my room at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess.
That afternoon, I report for my singing bowl therapy session at the Fairmont’s Well & Being Spa. It’s described as an ancient sound-healing practice that harnesses the body’s own vibrational properties on a cellular level. (Gah, more vibrations! I hope I don’t throw up!) “The bowls can be used to activate the chakras and remove energy blocks to promote good health,” reads the menu.
“Tibetan monks use these like we use ibuprofen,” my therapist tells me of the set of metal singing bowls, which range in size from finger bowl to soup tureen. “You’re going to be hearing your song—your music. If something is stuck, the bowl won’t ring; it will just go ‘dink.’” “Okey-dokey!” I say cheerfully and lie down on the table. She places some of the bowls around me and on me, nestled in my crotch or balanced on my chest; others she carries, holding them close to my body and striking them with a mallet. They peal like bells. It’s like standing in front of a loudspeaker at a concert: I can feel the sound waves. She gets to the spot in my Death Arm where the infection began. “Dink,” the bowl says sadly. “Oh,” she says, brows furrowed. “What’s going on here?” She keeps whacking the bowl gently with her mallet until it eventually starts to, well, sing. Am I healed?
The next day, I visit The Phoenician’s new spa. I paddle around in the crystalline rooftop pool before my Illumination Through Tarot session. My guide, Cynthia, doesn’t want me to tell her what answer I’m looking for; she wants me to tell the cards. I shuffle the deck while wondering, “Deck, will I ever get better?” We lay out several rounds of cards.
“‘Harmony, balance and health restored’ keeps showing up,” Cynthia tells me. (Thank you, deck!)
That night, I check in at the glamorous Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa—an average little place where my best friend Beyoncé went for her honeymoon. I’m there for some hypnotherapy at the resort’s spa. I sum up the past year of my life for Kay, a certified hypnotherapist.
“Well,” she concludes. “One visit isn’t going to fix all that! But we may be able to start peeling away layers of the onion.”
And that is all I can say about this particular onion, which reportedly involved a mental body scan, some guided imagery and imagining my pain just “whooshing” away, because I don’t remember anything. But what I will remember the next time I go for hypnosis is to press “record” on my phone before I start whooshing.
Afterwards, I float on my back in one of the resort’s many pools, staring at the sky. I don’t feel that physically changed, but I have a renewed sense of determination. I start making plans for all the things I’m going to do (start physio again, meditate, try cutting those pills in half...).
I’m going to do it. I’m going to win at this getting better. The desert told me so.
THE SPA AT THE PHOENICIAN OFFERS ILLUMINATION THROUGH TAROT SESSIONS.
CRANIAL SACRAL THERAPY AT THE JOYA SPA IN SCOTTSDALE USES “INTUITIVE PRESSURE TO GENTLY RELEASE RESTRICTIONS INFLUENCING THE CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM.”